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In 1962, with help from a $100,000 foundation grant, Seattle's King County Medical Society opened an artificial kidney clinic at Swedish Hospital and established two committees that, together, would decide who received treatment. The first was a panel of kidney specialists that examined potential patients. Anyone older than 45 was excluded; so were teenagers and children; people with hypertension, vascular complications or diabetes; and those who were judged to be emotionally unprepared for the demanding regimen. Patients who passed this first vetting moved on to another panel, which decided their fate. It soon gained a nickname -- the "God committee." Born of an effort to be fair, the anonymous committee included a pastor, a lawyer, a union leader, a homemaker, two doctors and a businessman and based its selection on applicants' "social worth" Of the first 17 patients it saw, 10 were selected for dialysis. The remaining seven died.
When insurance companies deny coverage to critically ill patients because of what they deem "pre-existing conditions," they sentence those people to misery and often death. And that has nothing to do with proposed health care reform. This travesty exists now.
As an end of life care physician, let me urge everyone to use the right terminology. We already have palliative care teams. What is wrong with reviewing those who have chronic life limiting conditions and offering them palliative care instead of aggressive care? Often people opt for extending their days of living instead of their quality of days remaining due to ignorance about a "death panel," or hospice team. Yes, we save the system money by not ordering more tests and unnecessary treatments. We also improve quality of life with out prolonging life. Death panels already exist in healthcare and I am proud to be a part of a palliative care team that focuses on quality and not quantity of life. Do you really want to spend millions of dollars prolonging the life of someone with advanced metastatic terminal malignant cancer in the intensive care unit? Is that an effective use of healthcare dollars? If the healthcare system has one dollar left to spend, would you spend it ordering an MRI on a terminal cancer patient? Or on a new born baby? Currently, most of healthcare dollars are being wasted in the last days of life. Are we effectively using our current Medicaid/Medicare health dollars? Has anyone looked at the hospice palliative care movement in America and how much money we are already saving the healthcare system? Is that so wrong? Death panels do exist and they are a necessary part of healthcare.
The “death panel” smear goes something like this: President Obama and his comrades in Congress are hell-bent on instituting mandatory end-of-life counselling sessions for American seniors as part of their socialist takeover of the health insurance industry. They will choose who gets to live and who will die.
Death panels are real. They do exist. Your own insurance provider could be in on it. And it’s time the media said so.